2013 will be a year to mark for women and girls in India. It was the year when the women’s movement was taken to its highest, though not all part of it was successful. Never was there such a widespread awareness on women’s rights and liberties. This was a phase in the movement that involved men in raising voice against violence against women. A sea of people took to the streets on winter mornings and evenings of December last year. There is something to do with Decembers and gender positioning in our country.
Was it just a year ago that the length and breadth of India was absolutely shaken with the ghastly episode of the Delhi gang rape case? The SC has failed us yet again with the verdict on Section 377. December to December we are yet to impress upon the state and the courts, that gender is no parameter to judge an individual, that right to equality is a fractured concept in our country which needs to be fixed, that women and men are not the two boxes to which a society should be limited, that women should be freed from centuries of subjugation and patriarchal imperialism. It is the basic question everywhere. How does a society progress when half of its population is ridiculed, disrespected, abused and killed?
Since December 16th 2012, every writer, journalist, activist and social media enthusiast has referred the incident many a times as a criterion to substantiate that gender equality is a national issue. Those days were very happening; every hour was a moment of grief, anger, disappointment and retaliation. People from all fraternities and walks of life had their say on the issue. Majority expressed their solidarity while some blamed the victim and passed sexist comments, not only Indian leaders but also an American politician. Remember Trent Franks’ unscientific comment on very few chances of pregnancies caused due to rapes? It’s been a year and Smriti Irani is still fighting a case against a misogynistic politician. From all, the most baseless inference was derived by the Khap panchayats. They came up with suggestions of lower the minimum age of marriage for girls. Their claim that marriage is a security couldn’t be more ironical. The most important stakeholders here, the police and their shocking insensitive attitude towards rape victims drew international attention towards the state of affairs in India.
The incident sent us all in to introspect at the very individual level. Various suggestions were made on how women could be protected. The sales of pepper sprays went up and exclusive women cabs service was a popular initiative drawing appreciation from all quarters, not to forget those pink coloured autos meant only for ladies. Lot was written and said about the origins of patriarchy. The analysis of how and when also brought the focus on importance of a girl child. Amartya Sen, an efficient economist pointed out the demographic gap between men and women. He went about calculating the number of missing women, which he called ‘The invisible half’. The number of girl child foetuses killed in the womb, the number of women who died due to dowry harassment, domestic violence, rapes and non-institutional deliveries. Amid such a sorry state of affairs, one village in Rajasthan floated up like a lotus in dirty water. The villagers planted 111 saplings each time a girl was born!
Activists and students addressed the discrimination meted to girls within households and the difference in bringing up a girl and boy. The one act play written by Deepa Ranganathan titled ‘Aath Baj gaye’ is a typical conversation between a liberal modern working woman and her parents. It shows the conventional attitude of parents wanting to control their daughter with all sorts of prescription like how to dress and what time to come back home. The item songs in movies and advertisement industry were majorly on the dock, held for objectifying women and spreading a very superficial dimension about the beauty of a woman. The message was not strong enough as they haven’t stopped making ads where a woman submits to a man due to the fragrance of a perfume. They haven’t stopped making ads which make young adolescent girls feel insecure about their skin colour and figure. Bollywood has set up strict market standards of beauty that it is very difficult to unlearn. The item songs carry provocative lyrics, metaphors most cheap to describe a woman. Who would preach to boys and men that women aren’t just an accumulation of body parts?
Due to the fact that rapes committed by minors were frequently coming into light, importance of teaching young boys to respect girls and women was well stressed upon. After all the discussion on what should be the minimum age of a minor, the SC court has recently maintained its status quo on not trying minors as adults.
Most importantly, the best introspection was that parents, students, professionals and the state had realized how our education system is not helping in instilling values and imparting the right lessons needed. For the first time, open discussions on the need for sex education to be introduced in school curriculum were conducted on both social media and television. The first step to change came when people stood up against victim blaming and condemned judging a women by her choices. The right to choose was best endorsed by every progressive citizen. Big and small campaigns on social media started off such as MARD, STOP THE SHAME, I FEEL I REACT etc. A set of hashtags on twitter trended for quite long like the #NoMoreRape, #StopTheShame etc.
This was one section of the country, but as we know there are many Indians. A politician who was born in the 20th century with 19th century mind-set filed a PIL in the court seeking to ban on pornography. He went about referring to some never done studies that porn was responsible for all crimes against women. A revolution succeeds only when there is a gradual progress not by acting radically. Voices were strong on this issue. Many disagreed to the argument that porn would encourage men to rape. We ask for security and leaders hailing from Bharat sort to cultural and religious bigotry. Several psychologists and sociologists have tried deriving reasons for why men rape? Not to forget the shocking survey by the UN, around Asia-Pacific which confirmed that one in every four men raped at least one woman in their life time. The reasons they admitted were various: to exercise control, to teach a lesson for turning down sexual advancements, for recreation or simply because they could not conquer their instincts
While this was happening in our domestic circles, some very active movements abroad caught attention. It was the same December when the popular women’s rights activistÂ Eve Ensler visited India. She was equally aghast at the gravity of the crime. Eve was herself a victim of repeated abuse since she was eight. She had embarked upon a revolutionary mission to de-sexualize the word ‘vagina’. She scripted ‘The Vagina Monologues’ which was derived from interviewing hundreds of women young and old on what they feel about their vaginas. A country like India where fathers and brothers feel that their respect lies in their daughters’ and sisters’ vagina, bringing about ideological change is almost impossible. She called for a march in various cities round the world on the Valentine’s day called ‘One Billion Rising’. The march was to assert rights on our bodies, on our vaginas, to fight against sexual violence. Have you heard of this question which went around widely, “Who needs Feminism?” This one was the most inclusive campaign which broadened the idea of equality between men and women. The pictures which showed both boys and girls holding placards went viral on the internet. The right perspective of what feminism really means was well discussed through various writings and debates online.
All sorts of promises started coming from the government and political parties. All parties now have ‘women security’ as a top priority in their manifestos. When Justice Verma committee called for an open source law making process for the first time ever in our country, the definition and scope of voyeurism and eve-teasing were re-looked at. A debate on CNN led to conclude that a crime starts with a background building up towards it starting with stalking, eve-teasing, wooing, soliciting, harassing and finally rape. Stalking is definitely a serious offence. We thought we won at least one battle with the SC verdict on prohibiting over the counter sale of chemical in order to curb acid attacks. Unfortunately, it did not prove much of a deterrent with cases still being reported, for example the recent incident in Ludhiana where a woman was attacked on her wedding day. The government did bring the Nirbhaya law to prevail but the incidence of rapes our still on the rise.
What is the purpose for legislation without a conviction to implement them? If there was serious commitment, the Domestic Violence Act would have been allotted the required share in the budget. If there was real will against gender bias, the women’s bill would have been passed with a majority vote. The percentage of women legislators in state assemblies and parliaments is another matter of concern. It is apparently the total lack of conviction to safeguard the right of every woman to stay uninjured that marital rape hasn’t been made punishable by law. The legislators in our country aren’t willing, the courts aren’t conferring rights either, the police are most insensitive, where do the women of this country go? It was rightly said by Taslima Nasreen, “this is no nation for women”. What do you expect from leaders who share a stage with godmen who rape women?
The part that the movement hasn’t covered much is sexual harassment at workplace. We wake up only after the house catches fire. Two cases have proved that women are repeatedly victims of intimidation and exploitation irrespective of the field they work in. One of it dragged our attention towards the women against women phenomenon against which feminists should actively campaign. It means only hypocrisy to brand oneself as a feminist without addressing this mainly. Making sure that female employees get unconditional support from firstly female colleagues and employers is a requisite. On this, I am totally against the mahila bank initiative by the government recently in Mumbai. Making workplace harassment free through providing all women environment does not send the right message across. The purpose to achieve equality is defeated when we project that we are comfortable with our own kind.
It might take another 100 years for people to get over the conventional beliefs on gender. The movement is hence a perpetual process. The fight is a long one and more battles are yet to be fought. The movement is alive in every street where a woman fights her everyday stalker, in every house where boys and girls are brought up equally, in every school where sex education is imparted to both boys and girls, in every gathering where you are not judging a woman for her choices, in every court where justice is delivered at the earliest, in every field where women are welcomed to participate and treated at par with their male counterparts, in every society where a rape victim is accepted and allowed to lead a normal life with all dignity.